Climbing spots of Catalonia part 1
Text and photos by Mateusz Haładaj
Recently, I have been a frequent visitor of the area of Lleida and I managed to become familiar with most of the climbing areas in the neighborhood. I’d like to share some useful information with you as I find this place the largest accumulation of the world class climbing destinations. This article could be as well titled “there is more than Margalef” as it seems that this spot is the most popular among climbers coming to Catalonia, may be even the most popular in whole Spain. In fact, you may find many other sectors offering varied climbing and worth a visit. I’ll try to describe shortly some of these which I know myself, or some that I have gathered many information about.
The issue I’m about to picture is quite complex and it would be nearly impossible to present all the areas in a detailed way, so I’ll try to focus only on the most vital information and look at it from the subjective point of view. Enjoy!
When it comes to location I decided to leave this aspect to the readers who may use the map independently or can visit 8a.nu’s map of areas.
Another thing worth mentioning is the issue of guidebooks. The complex guidebook called Lleida Climbs by Dani Andrada and Pete O’Donovan, contains detailed information about the spots of the area of Lleida, however Siurana and Margalef are described in separate volumes, as well as some other spots of Catalonia areas. Here, it is Worth mentioning that it is always safer to use the most recent editions, as some of the areas are growing very fast and the exploration is progressing.
Montserrat – it’s where everything started.
Firstly, I have to mention that I haven’t climbed at Montserrat myself, however I know quite a bit about this spot from my Spanish friends who climb there frequently. I decided to put Montserrat in this description because it’s a good area to begin with, and certainly one of the most important in Catalonia that can’t be missed.
Montserrat is a large conglomerate massif situated almost in the suburbs of Barcelona on its north side. This is a place where the history of sport climbing in Catalonia started in the ’80. Today, there is approximately 6.000 bolted routes, both multipitch and sport, and it’s difficult to become familiar with most of them. There are several guidebooks describing the area.
Misty Montserrat (photo: Mateusz Haładaj)
The sort of rock in Montserrat is conglomerate but of a different kind than the one at Margalef, routes are mainly flat - vertical or slightly overhanging on small holds, pockets and stones that stick out from the walls. Prevailing part of the walls are grey and orange. Most of the climbs are single pitch and the longest ones are up to 250m. The area of Montserrat may be an interesting destination for climbers who prefer technical routes on vertical walls, but you may also find some great orange overhangs. Generally, the climbing is demanding and there is a small group of climbers who visit this place frequently. The best season to visit Montserrat is spring, fall and summer, after the rain the rock gets dry ery quickly. The Montserrat massif is a picturesque place and it can be perfect also for hiking and biking.
Siurana – Probably the most beautiful climbing area in Spain…
Everybody heard about Siurana, its vertical routes, the accumulation of hard pitches and its well-earned place in the history of sport climbing. For the time being, I’ve got familiar with only some best sectors but I’m sure I will come back there many times to discover more. Certainly this area would suite the best those who prefer to crimp on a vertical or slightly overhanging walls. The number of routes of such character is the biggest, but you may find there almost every kind of climbing. Some routes are continuous, some are bouldery, you may find pockets and edges but hardly any tufas.
Sector El Pati in Siurana (photo: Mateusz Haładaj)
The feature that is characteristic of Siurana is the picturesque landscape, the aesthetics of climbing and overall great ambience. Unfortunetely, the area is visited by a vast number of people, and sometimes you have to queue up under your desired route.
The best season to come there is practically all year but summer is definitely the worse period. The cliffs get dry rapidly after the rain but on the other hand, there are no severe overhangs suitable for climbing during the rain. Moreover, it is recommended to come to Siurana when you already climb at least 6b, still the biggest number of good routes may be found by climbers who climb 7a and more. If one would like to try some easier climbs the neighboring areas, such as Vilanova de Prades, La Mussara and Arboli are definitely worth visiting. All of them are up to 30minutes drive and all with a big amount of random climbs.
Montsant – Underestimated cliff
From Siurana you may see the beautiful Montsant cliff with its long walls full of multipitch routes. Sport climbers have also some great destinations there – Raco de missa, Escletxa and El Falco. Montsant is a conglomerate wall and It’s situated 5km from Margalef in a straight line but with a different sort of rock. Holds are larger, mostly two- and three-finger pockets, but the distance between them also bigger. The character of climbing is sustained and rather powerful (suitable for OS attempts).
El Raco de Missa in Montsant (photo: Mateusz Haładaj)
At Raco de missa you may find very long pitches up to 70m of a continuous character. The cliff is south faced and protected from the wind, which makes it a good spot for cold winter days; the crag doesn’t seep soon after rain. The sector is suitable for climbers that can climb at least 6b but there are also some easier routes. Raco de Missa is obligatory for climbers who climb 7b and more it’s one of the best in the area!
Margalef – The empire of pockets
Despite all the opinions I have heard before, Margalef does not offer the sort of climbing that would be similar to the one in the German Frankenjura, even if 99% of the holds you use are pockets. Here, the character of climbing is more powerful and endurance-based, there are very few small holds and the hardest routes are generally steep and sustained. The aspect that is characteristic of Margalef is that everyone can climb here regardless of the grade. There is no other place where you may find a 5c next to 9a – that’s why Margalef is so popular, especially in Spring and Fall. Honestly, it’s hard to feel lonely there…
The area is located in a lovely valley, there is a lake and some endless hiking trails. It’s far to the nearest supermarket but don’t worry, wi-fi is there. The conglomerate crags are mainly grey and orange. The parts that get wet after the rain are grey, and the orange ones (mainly on larger holds) stay dry. Still, it’s not recommended to climb in the rain because the rock gets humid and it becomes very slippery in some parts (Finestra, Tenebres). The crag is partly overed by the thin limestone surface forming tufas and blobs.
The Cova Boix sector in Margalef (photo: Mateusz Haładaj)
Margalef seems to have only advantages but besides the crowds it may become boring after a few visits, or at least this is what I experienced myself after a while. The sort of movement is rather brutal, powerful and monotonous. Routes do not require any sophisticated technique and all you need is a strong forearm. On the other hand, once you learn how to climb there you may push your personal difficulty records.
The Cabernet secot in Margalef
(photo: Mateusz Haładaj)
I recommend mainly the largest sectors where it’s easier to find the routes of all grades and the ones of your dreams: Espadelles (steep, with a long approach on foot; suitable for the winter time and climbing both in the Sun and rain), Finestra and Tenebres (classic, steep, bigger holds, shade), Cabernet (sunny, windy, long sustained routes and great sorrounding), Laboratori (in the sun, OK it reminds Frankenjura sometimes), Cova boix (great and in the shade), Ca la Marta and Can Torxo.